Challenges Face McGroarty
Arts center faces financial, management struggles
By Eddie Rivera
The recent resignation of Roy Mueller as the executive director of McGroarty Arts Center (MAC) and the laying off of Development and Communications Director Susan Bowen due to staff “restructuring” are telling indications of financial and management problems at the local arts organization.
For the last several months the center has faced not only budget problems but also the threat of a harassment lawsuit. Also, the center has had three executive directors in the last two years.
In emails obtained by The Foothill Record, MAC board president Michelle Barone laid out the center’s financial landscape to staffers. On August 15, Barone wrote, “The board is once again very challenged. Roy Mueller has resigned. He spent his time here doing an amazing job providing in depth clarity about the finances. It became clear that at this time an Executive Director’s salary would be a total drain to the organization.”
Mueller, formerly with Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena, was hired by the center at the beginning of June to straighten out MAC’s finances. During that time, according to the source, the center received only one grant, for $10,000, which was earmarked for staff salaries. According to the board member, and confirmed by Barone, Mueller was paid out of that grant before he left the center. Mueller did not respond to a Foothill Record request for an interview.
In the August 15 email, Barone said, “The executive committee is well aware of all that needs to be done and as volunteers with full time jobs we are doing what we can in a timely manner. Staff is also doing everything to keep the day-to-day operations running smoothly.
“The board is continuing to work very hard to meet our fiscal challenges,” she wrote. “We have had good response to fall registration and will be able to run the payroll early next week,” Barone continued. “The goal is to have paychecks next Wednesday or Thursday. We hope that you promote your classes. Classes will need to be filled to run.”
A July 25 email had detailed how staff pay would be affected by the budget crisis. Barone wrote, “To ensure the fiscal health of the organization moving forward and meet MAC’s operating needs, we are instituting a new payroll pay period policy of paying payroll 14 days after the close of a pay period.
“With this new policy, the next pay date should be July 29, 2014, although we will be unable to meet your full pay by that date. We are expecting grant money to arrive and our plan is to pay half your salary on August 1, 2014 and the other half August 8, 2014,” wrote Barone.
In addition, Barone personally challenged the board to raise $25,000 by August 15 or sooner. According to Barone, the board has raised $11,615 as of August 26.
“The Board is continuing to fundraise in every possible way to reach our goal and beyond,” Barone added.
The center is currently two weeks behind in pay, estimated a current MAC board member, who asked to remain anonymous. Without a major fundraising effort, the center will close within months, said the board member. Barone denied this claim, however.
According to the board member, MAC’s financial woes began soon after the resignation of former executive director Claire Knowlton in the spring of 2013. Barone denied this timeline, but did say that MAC’s financial problems started about six months ago.
Knowlton’s replacement, Candace Sorenson, had clashed with some members of the staff, and Sorenson was fired early this year. Meanwhile, according to the board member who served during Sorenson’s tenure as executive director, the center received no grants despite having filed grant applications. Barone disputes this claim, however, saying that, during that time, “funds were received from grants made to LA Arts Commission and Dept. of Cultural Affairs and Ms. Sorenson wrote grants and funds have been received.”
Also, after Sorenson’s firing, one board member threatened to sue Sorenson and the center for harassment, said the source. The center hired a lawyer and an investigator to help defend itself against the allegations.
As documented in MAC’s most current strategic plan, the MAC property is owned by the city of LA. The center has been leasing the facility from the city since 1995 and pays no rent or utilities under the terms of its lease agreement. Repairs and life and safety issues are the responsibility of the city. The city also provides funding to cover some of the administrative and janitorial costs associated with operating the center. The most recent contract with the city was written in 2006.
The strategic plan adds, “The center has since been operating under numerous contract extensions, often month-to-month, for the past three years. This is an extremely risky arrangement, especially considering the City’s current fiscal problems. Sustainability of our programs and plans for the future depend heavily on our continued presence in this site.”
Barone also recently met with Leslie Thomas, the group’s liaison with the LA City Department of Cultural Affairs, to discuss the center’s financial situation. Said Barone, “The meeting was very productive. Mr. Thomas has been involved with the center since the 1980s. He is giving us guidance and support during our restructuring.”
Meanwhile, MAC is still offering its regular schedule of classes and events. It also is conducting its McGroarty 365 fundraising program, a dollar-a-day renewing membership that offers, among other perks, “VIP priority” registration for classes, free and discounted admission to events, and a subscription to the center’s quarterly e-calendar.
To help McGroarty raise funds for its programs and events, contact the center at (818) 352-5285 or visit McGroartyArtsCenter.org for more information. Donations are tax deductible. Volunteer opportunities are also available.